- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
At the 1992 Winter Olympics in Méribel, France, Ray LeBlanc appeared to have finally made the big time. A minor league lifer, he backstopped the U.S. hockey team to the medal round for the first time since 1980's Miracle on Ice, averaging 2.20 goals against with a sublime 94.3 save percentage. After his team was shut out by the Americans, Poland coach Jerzy Mruk called LeBlanc "one of the highest professionals in his field."
Despite the United States' fourth-place finish, the 27-year-old from Fitchburg, Mass., was on top of the world: He'd been routinely compared to Jim Craig, the netminder in 1980 and his boyhood idol, and he seemed destined to land a full-time NHL job.
A few weeks after the Games, LeBlanc, a longtime Blackhawks prospect who also filled steel containers in a Pepsi factory for extra income, was shopping for a washer and dryer when he received his NHL call-up, but just for one game. On March 10 he made 21 saves in a 5--1 victory over the Sharks. A packed house chanted U-S-A! U-S-A! with every save and even gave him a standing ovation when San Jose's Mike Sullivan broke up the shutout. "It was severely loud and crazy," he says.
By giving LeBlanc 60 minutes of ice time, Chicago made him eligible for that summer's expansion draft while protecting its other goalies—including Ed Belfour (Hall of Famer) and Dominik Hasek (future Hall of Famer)—from poaching. "This is a great steppingstone for [LeBlanc]," Chicago G.M. Bob Pulford told The New York Times prior to LeBlanc's start, "but goaltending is not one of our weak areas."
Alas, LeBlanc, who had a reputation of being a streaky goalie, was not selected in the draft. Instead he logged 36,208 minutes and averaged 3.65 goals against in the minors and during international competition. For 17 seasons, the last being with Jacksonville of the ECHL in 1999--2000, he unpacked his own wet equipment and raised his fists at the universe only when his car was covered in snow. "You had to warm it up and drive on black ice," he says. "Not fun."
It is no surprise, then, that for the past 11 years LeBlanc, now 47, has lived about three miles from the Gulf of Mexico in Largo, Fla., where he works in receiving for Budweiser at Great Bay Distributors. "I really like driving a forklift," he says.
When he's not fishing or spending time with family—LeBlanc and his wife, Julie, have two sons and a daughter ranging in age from 24 to 17—he can be found working with the homeless and spreading the gospel in downtown St. Petersburg as part of Team Hope, his church group at Calvary Chapel.
"Sure there was discouragement, but I look back on my career and I'm blessed," he says. "Through hockey, there was always a roof over my head and food on the table. It doesn't matter if it was one game or a thousand games in the NHL. I got to do something that I dreamed about when I was a kid."